Lapo Elkann, in Beijing to launch the Fiat 500 by Gucci car he helped design, is something of an old China hand.
“I know China quite well,” he said at a cocktail party Thursday night in Beijing’s art district, 798. “I was working with Henry Kissinger in 2001 when he came here.”
Elkann, the grandson of Gianni Agnelli, who was a friend of Kissinger, served as the former Secretary of State’s personal assistant. He accompanied Kissinger in 2001 when he played a commemorative ping pong game to mark the 30th anniversary of Kissinger’s first trip to China as part of the United States’ “ping pong diplomacy” strategy.
China has changed a good deal since those days, he noted. “Things are happening here,” he said, directing the conversation back towards the car’s launch.
That’s not to say that the Italian financier and playboy was resting long in the Middle Kingdom. Did he have any time to visit the Forbidden City or the Great Wall?
“No, tomorrow we go to Shanghai, and then on to London, Berlin, Moscow and Los Angeles,” he said, clad in a pale blue suit and white shoes. “The launch of the Fiat 500 is the execution of a unique icon, which blends the history of what I know and what I do,” he said.
He also posed for pictures with celebrities, including Yang Lan, known as China’s answer to Oprah Winfrey, actors Feng Shao and Xion Naijin, and Italy’s ambassador to China, Massimo Iannucci.
Director Alexi Tan shot a short film for the occasion. The film depicted a young Chinese couple meeting and spending the night together somewhere outside of Beijing, each driving off from the anonymous encounter in their own Fiat 500 car, trying to find each other in Beijing traffic, and then switching Fiats and driving off with smiles on their faces.
After the film was shown, curtains parted. Two cars appeared at the top of a short runway, and Elkann and Jack Cheng, general manager of GAC Fiat, drove the cars a few feet to the bottom of the runway.
The cars, to be sold for 268,800 renminbi, or $42,641, sat underneath red painted Maoist slogans that remained on the walls from the time the building was a Soviet era factory. Just 200 of the cars will be made available to Chinese customers. The cars, with the signature Gucci red and green band throughout, will be sold at GAC Fiat dealerships throughout China.
“The colors, red and green, represent our flag,” Elkann told the crowd. “It’s the emblem of what Italians do best. I want to see Chinese women and Chinese men enjoying the 500 Gucci.”